Conscience Pudding a story taken from New Treasure Seekers written by E. Nesbit and illustrated by C. Walter Hodges (Ernest Benn Ltd, 1904, 1948)
I have always loved Edith Nesbit’s stories, particularly the three books about the enterprising Bastable children, Oswald, Dora, Noël, Alice, Dicky and H.O. who find imaginative ways of restoring the family fortunes when their father’s business fails.
This book is one of a bundle I picked up in a second-hand shop in Birmingham sometime in the early 1990s. It looked as though one family had been having a clear out as several volumes were inscribed with the name of ‘Arrowsmith’. It is not in brilliant condition, but certainly worth the few pennies I paid.
In this episode of the children’s adventures, the young entrepreneurs decide to make a Christmas pudding for themselves rather than suffer the ‘plain pudding’ that their father has instructed the cook to make. However, they have no money to buy ingredients and two of the younger children come up with an enterprising solution:
“It’s no good. You know we’ve got no tin.
“Ah,” said Alice, “but Noël and I went out, and we called at some of the houses in Granville Park and Dartmouth Hill – and we got a lot of sixpences and shillings, besides pennies, and one old gentleman gave us half a crown. He was so nice. Quite bald, with a knitted red-and blue-waistcoat. We’ve got eight-and –sevenpence.”
So after acquiring these riches, Alice and Dora sally forth to buy the ingredients from the grocer (who is kind enough to tell them that a cupful of ginger would be too much) and the children begin secretly to make the pudding:
“…we barricaded the nursery door and set to work. We were very careful to be quite clean. We washed our hands as well as the currants. I have sometimes thought we did not get all the soap off the currants. The pudding smelt like a washing-day when the time came to cut it open. And we washed a corner of the table to chop the suet on. Chopping suet looks easy till you try.” (see picture!)
Not exactly Jamie or Delia then! But where does the ‘conscience’ bit come in, I hear you ask. This is because the younger children collecting the money had asked for money to make a pudding for ‘poor children’. When the older children found out, they declared that the pudding had to be given away to some truly poor children, as it was dishonest to keep it.
This results in comical efforts to give the pudding way, ending in a trip to the workhouse in a desperate quest to salvage the family’s honour. This is not exactly a workhouse as depicted in Dickens, as the matron puts on Christmas entertainment for the older residents.
All’s well that ends well, when matron listens to the sorry tale and relieves the children of their ‘conscience pudding’ both literally and figuratively. An apt Christmas story in more ways than one…